Owning My Expertise & Embracing My Leadership
By: Danielle Pulliam, Senior Program Officer, and Jenny Negron, Senior Program Officer, The Pinkerton Foundation. The following pieces are part of White People Are Tired of Talking About Racism: A Collection, originally published in Nonprofit Wakanda Quarterly's Winter 2021-2022 publication.
Owning My Expertise
By Danielle Pulliam
A few years after getting my master’s degree, I was thinking of my next career move. I was fortunate to meet and work with executive coach Gina Amaro Rudan. Gina wrote a book about cultivating the genius within you. She had me do an exercise where I had to complete the following sentence, “I am an expert at”. She had me practice my response over and over again and I never forgot how powerful that exercise was.
Years later, when I was in a room surrounded by incredibly accomplished women of color and we were discussing our career goals, I challenged them with the same exercise. I struggled to complete the sentence myself even years after first completing the exercise, but I was surprised that the women in the room struggled as well. All of us could easily point out each other’s expertise but we resisted our own labels of expert not just because of our respectable humility but because we have been conditioned to devalue our worth. However, I am reminded that even when women elevated their voices during the Women’s Suffrage Movement, Black women were visibly excluded. As a Black woman myself, I understood why, a room full of accomplished Black & Brown women struggled with expressing their badassery. We are the product of a system that has always excluded us.
So part of my leap is to proudly own my expertise! I am an expert at organizational development, capacity building and grantmaking, and leading groups on international travel experiences - just to name a few.
Now it’s your turn to leap. Fill in the blank. Then look in a mirror and say it loud and proud.
“I am an expert at...!”
Danielle works with multiple stakeholders to address the needs of economically disadvantaged residents in New York City. During her career she has focused on issues including housing, workforce development, financial literacy, and education. As a senior program officer with The Pinkerton Foundation, Danielle manages grants for literacy, sports, and arts programs for young people and serves as a thought partner for the foundation’s Racial Equity Initiative to support BIPOC leaders. She is also co-chair of the New York City Youth & Education Funders Working Group which facilitates funder learning exchanges and analyzes issues facing New York City youth. A native of the Bronx, Danielle earned a BA from Brown University and an MPA from the Baruch CUNY School of Public Affairs through the National Urban Fellows Program. In addition to her work, she finds joy in practicing her faith and liturgical dance, traveling, and enthusiastically sampling the world’s cuisines.
Embracing My Leadership
By Jenny Negron
When I first started my career in philanthropy I experienced culture shock and imposter syndrome. These internal feelings were intensified whenever I was faced with subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, interactions or behaviors by others that communicated to me that in their eyes I in fact did not belong. I would be asked to share my credentials as to how I got my job or reminded that my perspective -- on issues that I care deeply about -- was flawed because it lacked the expertise of their intellect. I learned to withhold my opinion or adjust my words so as not to make others feel uncomfortable. I learned to accept being verbally belittled, having my decisions questioned, and feeling inferior. And so any time I was invited to take a leadership role in a predominantly white space, I would shy away, ask if the person truly thought I was qualified for the role, or take a back seat in the room.
But…someone once told me that doing things that scare us helps us become stronger and braver.
So I decided to take a leap and step into my leadership. With the support of allies, mentors,and friends, I learned that my voice and contributions matter. I have written papers, presented at conferences and joined local and national committees and a non-profit board where I share my expertise with pride. This year, the Rockwood Leadership Institute invited me to join the Equity in Philanthropy Fellowship where I learned how to have courageous conversations, focus on my wellness, and deal with stress. I also learned what my leadership style is -- and my strengths and weaknesses -- so I know how to approach a situation in a way that is authentic to who I am and what I believe in. Imposter syndrome is still a struggle for me and I continue to run into people who remind me to mind my place. However, I am learning how to speak up, not only for myself, but for the people, communities, and issues I care about. I feel comfort and strength in knowing that I have a community of BIPOC leaders to turn to for support and guidance.
Because of my identity, my qualifications will always be questioned, but surrounding myself with leaders who share my identity and my experiences is a reminder that I am not the one who needs to adjust to comfort others. I have a responsibility to be a voice for the voiceless. I will continue to lead in my own way and for them.
Jenny has a unique perspective on the value of Pinkerton grants. In 1998, three days after graduating from New York’s high school for pregnant and parenting teens and six weeks after the birth of her son Joel, she went to work as an “Explainer” in the Science Career Ladder program at the New York Hall of Science–a longtime Pinkerton grantee. While there, she completed her B.A. at Queens College and went on to earn a Master’s in Public Administration at Baruch College. She eventually rose to lead the 100 high school and college Explainers who guide thousands of visitors through the Hall of Science each year. Jenny has presented papers and led discussions at science education conferences at home and abroad and has been recognized as a Next Generation Getty Leadership Fellow. She brought her interest and expertise in youth programs and science and technology training to Pinkerton in January of 2012.